Monday, March 29, 2010

The best disinfectant


Supervisor of Records
Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth
McCormack Building, Room 1719
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

I wish to appeal the recent decision by Amherst Regional High School Committee Chair Farshid Hajir denying my Public Document request of March 14 for a copy of his "four notebooks" worth of "impressions" of the (former) Amherst School Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez.

Mr. Hajir boasted about those general impressions in a highly public Springfield Sunday Republican Newspaper article admitting they were garnered during meetings between Superintendent Rodriguez with staff and parents that he observed in his official capacity as Regional School Chair.

Under the recent decision of District Attorney for the Northern District v. School Committee of Wayland, 455 Mass. 561, 567--568 (12/31/2009), our Supreme Judicial Court held that evaluation of a school superintendent was not subject to an exemption under the open meeting law and must be discussed in public.

If any personal information about Mr. Hajir or his family appears in the notebooks, an independent third party can redact that sensitive information.

Since Alberto Rodriguez was the highest paid public employee in town and left suddenly after only 8 months into a 3-year contract, the taxpayers have a right to know what precipitated his demise--especially since he is receiving full compensation through 6/1/2010.

Sincerely,

Larry Kelley
460 West St.
Amherst, Ma 01002

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To: amherstac@aol.com; Kathy Mazur; Debbie Westmoreland
Sent: Thu, Mar 25, 2010 4:57 pm
Subject: Re: Public Documents Request
Dear Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for your reminder (March 24th) of the request you made on March 15th
(attached) for a copy of my notebooks referenced in an article by Diane Lederman
in the Republican Newspaper. The notebooks mentioned in the article contain
some of my personal impressions and ideas from my work as a member of the
Regional School Committee. Some of these were jotted down during meetings but
most of the notes were written at home as I reflected over the day's events, in
the form of a diary. The notes written during meetings were not an official
record, transcript, or minutes of the meetings, and I did not communicate them
to anyone; they were the thoughts that occurred to me as the meetings took
place. I consider my notes my personal reflections for my personal use.
Inasmuch as they constitute a record merely of a public official in dialogue
with himself, in my judgment, they do not constitute a public record and I do
not have any obligation to reveal them. You may, of course, take a different
position, and take the appropriate steps to make a determination to the
contrary. If it is determined that my notes are a public record, it's my
understanding that it would still not be appropriate in that case for the
material to be made public because they would then constitute written documents
for the Superintendent's evaluation and therefore be exempt from public
disclosure in accordance with the Supreme Judicial Court Ruling of 2009 in the
Wayland case.


Thank you for your interest in the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools.


Regards,
Farshid Hajir

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Mass General Law Chapter 4, Section 7, Paragraph 26:

"Public records'' shall mean all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose, unless such materials or data fall within the following exemptions in that they are: (e) notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit."
###################################
Mr Hajir is not an employee of the commonwealth in his role as Amherst Regional School Committee Chair--although he is as a Umass Math Professor @ $85-K per year.

13 comments:

Ed said...

Larry is right.

Once those notebooks went from the personal files of a public employee to being the justification of a personnel action - and they did that when he mentioned them to the Spfd Repub - they became public records.

Anonymous said...

Keep pushing them Larry. Was the guy pushed out of the job because he was shaking things up, or was he really incompetent? The public has a right to know.

Anonymous said...

Go get'em Larry. He used them as part of his basis for his professional opinion to terminate the employment of a public employlee, in his capacity as an elected official and then mentioned those notes in a public forum.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, with all due respect, he strikes me as kind of a rookie.

Anonymous said...

"Public records" shall mean all books, papers, maps, photographs ... unless such materials or data fall within the following exemptions in that they are:(e) notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit."

Strictly speaking, he is not an "employee" of the Commonwealth but he may qualify as such as Chair under the law and therefore be exempted.

He claims he referred to his notebooks in rendering a decision about his vote on the Super. It would be good to quote check the exact language reported about what he said was in the notebook and how he used it.

The issue is not the disposition of his records but rather whether the SC decision was a railroading or a well-considered decision on reasonable grounds and properly made.

Maybe the trick to cracking this nut is to think more broadly about documentation of the process which we are entitled to under the law of public records.

Anonymous said...

...notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit."

These were personal notebooks so they are not public documents.

End of story.

LarryK4 said...

Except he is not an "employee of the commonwealth.," Oh laconic one.

Ed said...

Was the guy pushed out of the job because he was shaking things up, or was he really incompetent?

Or BOTH????

That is what I am thinking.....

Ed said...

...notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit."

Once they became part of the reasons/justifications for termination, they became part of (or should have become part of) the files of the governmental unit.

Anonymous said...

Larry,

You are not reading it properly.

"any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose" is the same as "employee of the commonwealth" that is in the same sentence. It is just customary not to repeat it all over again in the same sentence. He is on a "board."

LarryK4 said...

We will see. As Bill O'Reilly is fond of saying "I could be wrong." (But I highly doubt it.)

Anonymous said...

You could be wrong, and in your haste to blow things out of proportion, you usually are.

Anonymous said...

id you hear that one of the candidates for MS principal pulled out? I guess that my neighbor (who works for the schools) was right. She said everyone knew the plan was to appoint M. Hayes. If there are two candidates left and one is being courted by three districts, guess who will get the job? More of the same and no change in sight for that school already in trouble. Who can help our students get a better education?